Wells Fargo to Pay $30M in Compensatory Damages to Four Nonprofits for Securities Fraud

A jury has ordered Wells Fargo to pay four Minnesota nonprofits $30 million in securities fraud damages. The Minnesota Medical Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Reinsurance Association, and the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children had accused the investment bank of investing their funds in high risk securities and then failing to disclose until it was too late that the investments were going down in value. The same jury has yet to decide the issue of punitive damages
The jury found that Wells Fargo violated the Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act and breached its fiduciary duty to the nonprofits. In the investment program that the Minnesota nonprofits participated in, Wells Fargo would hold its clients’ securities in custodial accounts and use the money to issue temporary loans to brokerage firms for their trading activities. Each brokerage firm posted collateral of at least 102% the worth of the borrowed securities’ value.

While the investment bank had promised that the nonprofits money would be placed in liquid, safe investments, the plaintiffs contend that Wells Fargo put their money in high-risk securities, including asset-backed and mortgage-backed securities. They say that even as the collateral investments’ value became less stable in 2007, the investment bank continued to place more of the nonprofits’ securities out on loan. The nonprofits also claim that when two of the SIV’s went into receivership and they asked Wells Fargo to either redeem their interests or return the securities, the investment bank refused to do so until the collateral investments were sold and the nonprofits made up a shortfall in value.

While the nonprofits are asking for over $400 million in damages, Wells Fargo’s lawyers argue that the actual damages to the plaintiffs was just $14.3 million. According to the bank, “the investments made by Wells Fargo on behalf of our clients in the securities lending program were in accordance with investment guidelines and were prudent and suitable at the time of purchase.” Apparently ignoring the claim or puntive damages, the investment bank says it is pleased that the plaintiffs were denied the full amount of damages they had sought. Wells Fargo continues to maintain that it didn’t invest in high-risk securities and that the nonprofits had the choice to get out of the investments if they were willing to pay 102% of the collateral.

Related Web Resources:
Wells Fargo ordered to pay $30 million for fraud, MRNewsQ, June 3, 2010
Wells Fargo Wins Minnesota Verdict on Punitive Damages (Update), BusinessWeek, June 3, 2010
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